Sustainable Living – The Ancient Practice of Soup/Stew Making

2019 update…

This granny did not invent the soup or the stew, but I grew up in a home where the women all knew the benefits and utility of keeping a pot of stew or soup warming on the stove.


Learning from my own grandmother:
I remember when I was a little girl first learning how to cook, helping my grandmother each morning as she made biscuits and cornbread. …watching her hands as she skillfully added and quickly stirred each ingredient into the middle of the flour pan by hand. I was mesmerized by the tactile, and sensuous nature of the creative process.

This was a daily routine for her. She was a pro at getting the temperature just right on her wood stove. She knew just how much wood to use, the best type of wood, and exactly how to make sure that nothing burned.

On top of the woodstove was a pot. This pot sat in the back and received most of the scraps from cooking throughout the day. The chickens and hogs would get the peels, and other scraps that were not needed for flavoring, and the pot got everything else. There was nothing better than a cup of warm potato, and onion soup, rich with cream, and added pieces of leftover bacon, green beans, wild garlic, onions, all kinds of things…and a big piece of warm cornbread crumbled in…topped off with a piece of raw onion…yum!

A matter of survival: My grandmother, the child of Irish immigrants, told stories of the times in her own childhood when she learned from her own mother how to keep a pot of leftover soup over the fire, a pan of warm bread, and butter to keep everyone alive. Bean soups were the staple of many a pioneer homestead, that and hominy stew.

During the depression, she and her husband had to leave their farm, and relocate to a city so he could find work. She had small children at home to feed, and him when he returned home from a construction job.

She told of going through the “rich people’s” garbage once a day and finding enough half-eaten leftovers to make a hearty stew for her own family. It was not uncommon to keep the pot warming, and adding new ingredients after boiling them. My grandmother would say, “If you boil something long enough, it can be added to your soup.

Water is necessary for survival:

In areas where war and famine are displacing populations, water becomes the primary source of survival. If there is access to a water source, the water can be boiled, and leaves (cilantro is mentioned by Central American friends) may be added to help sanitize the water for cooking. In drought-ridden areas, access to potable water or any water source can be an issue to survival. Boiling is still the best method for sanitizing water. If iodine or chlorine pellets are available or a filter can be engineered, these methods work too.

It’s difficult to see refugees having access to much, but they can boil water if they have water, a vessel, and a heat source.

Boiling leaves, roots, grubs, nuts, various insects, ….all things may be used to create a broth. If rice and beans are available, the nutrition levels are increased, even if the calories are not sufficient. Many still starve to death because the broths lack the fat, and carbs needed to sustain a nursing mother or for the development of a young brain.

Friends from Central America shared with me how they too use soups, and stews to sustain themselves. In Honduras, if they have company and need to expand their soup, they simply add more water, and a ladle full of lard. If plantains or rice, and beans are available, then all the better.

The idea of the “soup kitchen” comes from this practice I am certain. You can feed many people with bread, butter or cheese, and a warm cup of soup or stew.

When did it all begin? One study published in the journal “Nature” suggests that humans may have used pottery for cooking some 20,000 years ago in China. Other researchers have reported the use of pots and cooking with fire from the dawn of man.

“If Neanderthals were boiling bones to obtain the fat, they could have drunk the resulting broth, Speth says.

Neanderthals were probably cooking in some way, scientists have concluded. A 2011 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found evidence of cooked starch grains embedded in 46,000-year-old fossil Neanderthal teeth from Iraq.

This doesn’t prove that they were making soups or stews,” Speth says — some have suggested the meal would have resembled oatmeal — “but I would say it’s quite likely.”
Still a necessary practice for survival the world over:
Poverty and access to potable water is not just a third world problem. Many young mothers in industrialized nations were never taught how to make something from nothing. They are woefully unprepared for the reality of socio-economic depression.

In addition, processed foods, and the ease of grocery shopping has replaced the art; one only needs to open a can, or a box, and pop it in the microwave or toaster oven.

In today’s economic depression, it is time to rekindle this practice. Too many children, too many people, are going hungry. It has been my experience that many people who receive WIC or food stamps do not have the skills, and knowledge needed to create healthy meals from staples like rice, and beans. Many times the agencies do not realize this, and there is a waste.

If a family in poverty would learn to make and appreciate “the leftover stew,” there would be less hunger.
Making it “stretch.” As a granny now, who doesn’t have a huge family to feed, I make these soups and freeze them into smaller portions. I eat them throughout the week. It is a great way to save money, and eat healthily. Each frozen container also may serve as a soup starter, and leftovers may be added to make a full pot of soup.

Basic Staples:

  • A clean pot
  • Canned tomatoes – I prefer Rotel tomatoes with cilantro and lime
  • Lentils, black and garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, quinoa, long grain rice,..all inexpensive and keep for long periods of time in the pantry…I make a pot of beans usually and then freeze them in glass jars. I reuse olive and pickle jars.
  • Garlic- bundles
  • White onions
  • Olive oil
  • Turmeric, curry, coarse grind black pepper, garlic, and iodized salt, Italian, basil, cayenne pepper…ginger root fresh
  • Leftovers of all kinds, especially from fresh veggies
  • Vinegar

Each meal costs very little to make, and any canned meat may be added. Beans may be substituted for the meats as well. Adding rice or rice-based noodles, or quinoa will also add to the texture.

How to Soften Beans? If you are not using canned beans, you may need to know how to soften beans. My grandmother always taught me the following process:

    1. Sort the beans – remove any bugs, small rocks, tiny dirt clods, and any that may be beginning to breakdown
    2. Rinse the beans thoroughly
    3. Cover the beans with water and add 1 cup of apple cider or white vinegar – she taught me that the vinegar would not only soften the bean, but it also killed any microscopic critters that were not wanted
    4. Soak the beans overnight with a cloth over them
    5. Rince the beans thoroughly after soaking
    6. Bring beans to a boil in a pot of water
    7. rinse the beans again
    8. bring to a boil again, but this time with salted water and seasonings added, particular if it is a piece of meat
    9. reduce the heat and allow beans to simmer on low heat for an hour or two, adding water as needed and stirring periodically.
    10. If beans are still a little bit crunchy, add another cup of vinegar while boiling
    11. Add the beans to other things or serve with cornbread and a slice of white onion

Friends of mine from India taught me that they smash the lentils or put them in a blender to make their lentil soups and broths. I guess if all else fails, smash them with a mortar and pestle. The mortar is a sturdy bowl made of wood, stone, or metal…usually ceramic for chemistry. The pestle is used to smash grain. It was used in the Stone Age and also by alchemists in Egypt when making medicinal potions. In Mexico, a large mortar and pestle made of volcanic rock is used to prepare food and is called a molcajete.

I’m sure the earliest humans used two rocks to crush nuts, berries, leaves, grains, bones, etc…. perhaps one with a weathered surface that served as a bowl, and another piece that could be held to grind a substance in the depression.

My grandmother canned everything, so there was no waste on the farm. We ate everything fresh and she canned or pickled the rest.

A few of my favorite recipes:




New Year's Black-eyed Peas and Ham Soup

Get Well, Stay Well Soup:

Summer Veggie Stew:

  • Olive oil, enough to saute: Cubed beets, looks like beef Half a bulb of garlic, ~6 cloves
  • Add a mix of chopped veggies (1-2 cups), I use a frozen package, but fresh is better
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 2 cans of Rotel tomatoes with lime and cilantro
  • 2 cans of chicken broth
  • Fill the large pot to 3/4
  • Add 1 cup of quinoa (any kind)
  • Bring all to a rolling boil, stirring frequently
  • Reduce heat and simmer for an hour- if all veggies are fresh
  • Allow to cool and refrigerate overnight
  • Bring all to a boil, slowly, serve with cornbread

Each stew or soup that I make is different, depending on the leftovers I want to expand. Enjoy!

6 thoughts on “Sustainable Living – The Ancient Practice of Soup/Stew Making

  1. For my friend and favorite liberal, a vegetable soup inspired by your science granny winter stews. Peace and Blessings Ron Hearon
    Ornery Granny Vegetable Soup©
    inspired by Dianne Phillips Science Granny Winter Stew and Winter Stew II
    1 lb. Jimmy Dean Italian Sausage
    2 TBSP shallots (dried work great)
    1 – 2 lbs chicken breast cubed
    Two large onions , sautéed
    6- 8 cloves garlic
    1 – 2 tsp Orange Blossom Honey
    1 – 2 tsp World Market Thai Seasoning
    1 – 2 yellow squash, washed and cubed
    1 – 2 zucchini, washed and cubed

    1 28 oz. can organic cubed fire roasted tomatoes 1 can of Rotel Tomatoes
    1 28 oz. bag of pict sweet frozen mixed vegetables 1 320z box organic low salt chicken broth
    1 tbsp. chicken better than bullion (optional, but worth it) 1/8 cup low Salt Soy Sauce

    1 tsp 4 pepper blend ½ – 1 tsp cayenne pepper flakes
    2 tsp Herb de Provence 1 tbsp. Ground ginger
    1 heaping tsp cumin 1 heaping tsp turmeric
    1 tsp mandarin curry powder 1 bundle cilantro, washed and chopped

    Kraft 4 cheese Mexican Blend

    1. Add sausage, 2 tsps. of shallots, and 1 – 2 tsp World Market Greek Seasoning to skillet of your choice. Brown the sausage, shallot and onion mixture. When Complete, add to stew pot.
    2. Cook your chicken breast to your preference. I season mine with garam masala and honey. When it has completed cooking, set aside to cool.
    3. While the Chicken/Sausage is cooking, cube the squash and zucchini and microwave in glass bowl for approximately 5-6 minutes until tender. When tender, Add to stew pot
    4. Chop onions. Add to skillet with 2 tsp grape seed oil (olive oil), 2 tsp lemon or lime juice, and 1 – 2 tsp Thai seasoning. Cook until tender. At halfway point, add the 6 – 8 cloves of sliced or diced garlic
    5. When tender add 2 tablespoons of Orange Blossom Honey/Ginger Honey (local honey will do)and allow to heat for 2 more minutes. Add to stew Pot
    6. While the onions are being sautéed and the chicken has cooled, cube or shred ( my preference is to shred )the chicken and add to stew pot.
    7. Add the 28 oz. can of fire roasted tomatoes, can of Rotel, 32 oz. organic low salt chicken broth, 1/8 cup Soy Sauce, 1 TBSP Better than Bullion, 28 oz. bag of Pict Sweet Frozen Mixed Vegetables, 1 tsp 4 pepper blend and ½ – 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper flakes, 1 tbsp. ground ginger, 1 heaping tsp cumin, 1 heaping tsp turmeric, 1 tsp mandarin curry powder and 2 tbsp. Herb de Provence to the stew pot.
    8. Add water to stew pot until it is 2 inches from top.
    9. Stew slowly over medium heat until it boils, immediately, turn heat to low and simmer for one half hour.
    10. Turn heat off and let it sit for one hour. Add the cilantro at this time.
    11. Turn heat back on and bring to boil again turn heat to low and simmer for another one half hour. It is ready to ready to eat.
    12. I usually top with shredded Kraft four cheese blend.

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